ON POINT
DAN WILLIAM PEEK
APRIL, 2003

 Pebble Publishing


 

The Cleveland Story

For a number of years I have held the belief that the city of Cleveland, Ohio is the cultural capital of the United States. That is to say that, if someone from a foreign country called on me and stated that they had only a limited amount of time to spend in the country and wished to visit the one place that would give them a good sense of the fabric and texture of the American character, I'd send them to Cleveland. I have yet to talk with any resident of Cleveland whose eyebrows do not arch when I state this thesis, but I am confident that they'll see it my way one of these days.

Alan Freed, the first ever Rock and Roll concert, the Indians, the Browns, the new Browns, the Lake, the Flats, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Harbor Inn, Major Hoople's, The Cleveland Extravaganza - it's all there and it's all good. And if the subject is darts in Cleveland, it's better than good - It is excellent.

In the course of the research I conducted while writing To The Point: The Story of Darts in America, I took a careful look at most of America's dart communities, large and small. The nature of the book required that I compare the cultures, management philosophy, membership criteria and the circumstances of the formation of as many dart organizations around the country as possible.

I found many similarities in the formative stages of the different dart communities I analyzed, the most notable being a tendency toward contentiousness and bickering; and the presence of 'stock" characters or archetypes.

Although the first British-style dart league in America, The Southern California Dart Association, was founded in 1959, it was not until the late 1960's and early 1970's that leagues and clubs began to form all across the country. The founders of these organizations almost always included some or all of the following archetypal characters: The Armed Services Veteran who had learned the sport while overseas; the British or Irish expatriate who brought a love of the sport with them from their native land; the dart promoter, often a pub owner or darts supplies retailer; the young American who immediately mastered the sport; the "transplanted" Philadelphian and a cast of colorful shooters who added excitement to the sport.

In Cleveland, I found all of these characters to be present in the formative years of the Cleveland Darter Club.  Steve Farkas seems to be the very model of a darts promoter. Tom Yurcich learned to shoot darts while in the service during the Vietnam War. British expatriates were very much in evidence in Cleveland; the most notable of these was Tony Money. But there was also "Quiffy" Chaplin, who held down the dual role of expatriate and colorful character. ("Quiffy" is British slang for "sissy". The nickname came from something about how Chaplin combed his hair as a child in North Hamptonshire, England).  Then, further in the colorful category, there was Bill "Billy Blue Shoes" Johnson. No one could say exactly how he came to be known as "Billy Blue Shoes".  The best know "transplanted" Philadelphian in Cleveland was George Silberzahn, a master of both American and British-style darts. There are a number of candidates for the young American role; so I'll name no names.

The founders of the CDC, in 1969, were Steve Farkas, Tom Yurcich, Jim Woldan, Ernie Peto and Charlie "Chief" Andracchio.  A couple of years later, this same group founded the Cleveland Extravaganza dart tournament. The influence exerted by Farkas and Yurcich on the development of the sport of British-style darts in America was profound.

 Each dart community I examined in the course of my research also had some unique qualities. Sometimes these qualities were the result of the regional culture. "Chuck and Stick's Chicken Coop Open" in the Arkansas Ozarks comes most readily to mind as an example. (I am told that it's a dart tournament but for me it has the feel of a combination coon hunt, y'all come campout, all-to-the-wall cowboy/cowgirl beer-bust barbecue and snipe hunt). Philadelphia, with its century-old American-style dart culture, would be another good example of uniqueness arising from the customs of the region. Chicago, as I wrote in last issue's column, is unusual in its very character and in the tenacity of its founder and on-going leadership.

Cleveland, though, is unique in a very special way. Cleveland is where the sport of darts in America first found its voice and fashioned its image.  In To The Point I wrote about the importance of voice and language in the development of a sport.  The voice and image of British-style darts in America was first presented to the country, and to the world, from Cleveland.

The American media had begun to take notice of the emergence of British-style darts in this country at about the time of the CDC's founding.  In 1969 Sports Illustrated and Newsweek both ran their first-ever pieces on the sport. Time weighed in on the subject in 1971, but these reports were sketchy and, on important points, ignorant.

The first informed essay on British-style darts to appear in the national media was an article titled "Nietzche Would Have Been a Great Dart Player" in the August, 1973 issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine. The writer was a dart shooter from Cleveland named Steve Warner. The Atlantic Monthly piece is the finest bit of prose I have ever read on the subject of darts. In fact, it is the finest prose I have ever read on the subject of any sport.

Warner, a professional writer, perfectly captured the emotion and character of the sport of darts in America in the early 1970's. Since it is somewhat unlikely that readers will have access to a magazine article from 30 years ago, I'm going to reprint some of Warner's description of

The Cleveland Story

For a number of years I have held the belief that the city of Cleveland, Ohio is the cultural capital of the United States. That is to say that, if someone from a foreign country called on me and stated that they had only a limited amount of time to spend in the country and wished to visit the one place that would give them a good sense of the fabric and texture of the American character, I'd send them to Cleveland. I have yet to talk with any resident of Cleveland whose eyebrows do not arch when I state this thesis, but I am confident that they'll see it my way one of these days.

Alan Freed, the first ever Rock and Roll concert, the Indians, the Browns, the new Browns, the Lake, the Flats, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, The Harbor Inn, Major Hoople's, The Cleveland Extravaganza - it's all there and it's all good. And if the subject is darts in Cleveland, it's better than good - It is excellent.

In the course of the research I conducted while writing To The Point: The Story of Darts in America, I took a careful look at most of America's dart communities, large and small. The nature of the book required that I compare the cultures, management philosophy, membership criteria and the circumstances of the formation of as many dart organizations around the country as possible.

I found many similarities in the formative stages of the different dart communities I analyzed, the most notable being a tendency toward contentiousness and bickering; and the presence of 'stock" characters or archetypes.

Although the first British-style dart league in America, The Southern California Dart Association, was founded in 1959, it was not until the late 1960's and early 1970's that leagues and clubs began to form all across the country. The founders of these organizations almost always included some or all of the following archetypal characters: The Armed Services Veteran who had learned the sport while overseas; the British or Irish expatriate who brought a love of the sport with them from their native land; the dart promoter, often a pub owner or darts supplies retailer; the young American who immediately mastered the sport; the "transplanted" Philadelphian and a cast of colorful shooters who added excitement to the sport.

In Cleveland, I found all of these characters to be present in the formative years of the Cleveland Darter Club.  Steve Farkas seems to be the very model of a darts promoter. Tom Yurcich learned to shoot darts while in the service during the Vietnam War. British expatriates were very much in evidence in Cleveland; the most notable of these was Tony Money. But there was also "Quiffy" Chaplin, who held down the dual role of expatriate and colorful character. ("Quiffy" is British slang for "sissy". The nickname came from something about how Chaplin combed his hair as a child in North Hamptonshire, England).  Then, further in the colorful category, there was Bill "Billy Blue Shoes" Johnson. No one could say exactly how he came to be known as "Billy Blue Shoes".  The best know "transplanted" Philadelphian in Cleveland was George Silberzahn, a master of both American and British-style darts. There are a number of candidates for the young American role; so I'll name no names.

The founders of the CDC, in 1969, were Steve Farkas, Tom Yurcich, Jim Woldan, Ernie Peto and Charlie "Chief" Andracchio.  A couple of years later, this same group founded the Cleveland Extravaganza dart tournament. The influence exerted by Farkas and Yurcich on the development of the sport of British-style darts in America was profound.

 Each dart community I examined in the course of my research also had some unique qualities. Sometimes these qualities were the result of the regional culture. "Chuck and Stick's Chicken Coop Open" in the Arkansas Ozarks comes most readily to mind as an example. (I am told that it's a dart tournament but for me it has the feel of a combination coon hunt, y'all come campout, all-to-the-wall cowboy/cowgirl beer-bust barbecue and snipe hunt). Philadelphia, with its century-old American-style dart culture, would be another good example of uniqueness arising from the customs of the region. Chicago, as I wrote in last issue's column, is unusual in its very character and in the tenacity of its founder and on-going leadership.

Cleveland, though, is unique in a very special way. Cleveland is where the sport of darts in America first found its voice and fashioned its image.  In To The Point I wrote about the importance of voice and language in the development of a sport.  The voice and image of British-style darts in America was first presented to the country, and to the world, from Cleveland.

The American media had begun to take notice of the emergence of British-style darts in this country at about the time of the CDC's founding.  In 1969 Sports Illustrated and Newsweek both ran their first-ever pieces on the sport. Time weighed in on the subject in 1971, but these reports were sketchy and, on important points, ignorant.

The first informed essay on British-style darts to appear in the national media was an article titled "Nietzche Would Have Been a Great Dart Player" in the August, 1973 issue of Atlantic Monthly magazine. The writer was a dart shooter from Cleveland named Steve Warner. The Atlantic Monthly piece is the finest bit of prose I have ever read on the subject of darts. In fact, it is the finest prose I have ever read on the subject of any sport.

Warner, a professional writer, perfectly captured the emotion and character of the sport of darts in America in the early 1970's. Since it is somewhat unlikely that readers will have access to a magazine article from 30 years ago, I'm going to reprint some of Warner's description of Philadelphia's Tex Blackwood, one of the sports most colorful characters, at the Cleveland Extravaganza. As you read the quote, keep in mind that Philadelphia shooters of those times were notoriously reluctant to count, since the skill is not required in the American-style darts most of them had grown up shooting. And many of the Philadelphia shooters of the 1970's were so confident of their ability to hit any shot that they discounted the value of counting. "Primrose Pete" Polinsky, for example, frequently chose double one as his outshot. Here is the excerpt from Warner's article:

"Someone taps my arm and points to the side. I look over and there's Tex, an older man with a gaunt face and haunted eyes. He's wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat with a Culver City Open dart patch on the front, a cowboy shirt with roses on the pockets and a longhorn steer on the back, and a gun belt with a holster full of darts....

"Tex has had a lot to drink. He's vigorously chewing gum and snapping the darts back and forth between his fingers. He pauses for an uncomfortable amount of time between each dart he throws and sometimes, for no apparent reason, walks slowly up to the board to take a good look at it.

"His opponent and the twenty spectators watching the match don't like Tex. There's grumbling over how much time he's taking and somebody says loudly; 'This asshole should be banned from darts. Look at him. He's making it a mockery.'

"But Tex just keeps throwing beautiful darts, slowly. Despite terrible counting errors that cost him dearly, he wins the match. Nobody congratulates him, except me. I shake his hand and pat him on the shoulder and say, 'Good dart, good darts.' He gives me a fine smile and says, 'Hell, I'm a thrower, not a counter'."

Warner shot darts in the CDC for many years. He still lives in Cleveland. His most unforgettable darts moment was at the first Cleveland Extravaganza when, through beginner's luck (he says), he beat Tom Fleetwood at 301.

Then there was Tom Yurcich. Yurcich was a talented artist who, in 1973, teamed up with promoter Steve Farkas, and others, to found International Spider, the first nationally distributed darts publication in America. It was the art of Tom Yurcich that projected the image of dart shooting in America to Americans and the world. His cover art was often humorous, always of first class quality and seldom off the mark. My personal favorite of his covers was the October, 1976 issue on which a tongue-chewing dart shooter is portrayed with dart poised, one eye closed and the aiming eye looking upward at a mischievous spider hanging just over the dart. Tom's portrait of Al Lippman, which accompanied International Spider's notice of the death of "The Iceman" in 1976, truly captured the essence of the legendary dart shooter. I am indebted to Bob Damsel, Cleveland's dart shooting railroad engineer (and former co-owner, with Norm Plonski, of Major Hoople's) for the loan of his International Spider collection. It was an invaluable addition to my research.

When Yurcich joined with Farkas and other Clevelanders, to name a few, Wally Pisorn (the owner of the venerable Harbor Inn), Ernie Peto, Jim Woldan, Charlie Andracchio, and Steve Warner, the result was one of the most active and articulate darts community in the United States, perhaps in the world.

Tom Yurcich passed away a couple of years ago. I am told that his art sometimes appears on a website owned by Steve Farkas.

As for Farkas, he is a mystery to me. I have never been able to arrange an interview with him. He is, without question, the founder of darts in Cleveland. There is also no doubt that International Spider, which published for seven or eight years before being sold and transformed into a newsletter, was the seminal voice of the sport of British-style darts in America. The importance of Steve Farkas in the history of the sport of darts in this country is equal to that of any of the other major movers and shakers of the sport - bar none.

 The CDC has supported and continues to support great players and a great community. When well known dart shooter and promoter, Richie Varga celebrated his 50th birthday, George Silberzahn came back to Cleveland to join the celebration. For that matter, Silberzahn, the American-style and British-style darts Ace from South Jersey, was Best Man at Tony Money's wedding, traveling to Texas to do the honors. Money, a British business executive who by coincidence hales from Cleveland, England, married a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. Cleveland-based Silberzahn and Money were an internationally known doubles team in the 1970's. Money still lives in Cleveland, Silberzahn returned to the South Jersey area in the early 1980's. I should also note that Silberzahn, an honorary Clevelander and master dart shooter, is the author of a book on mastering the sport of darts that is due for publication by Totem Pointe Books later this year.

The CDC today is somewhat unique in that a paid professional Executive Director, Scott Maddis, has handled its daily operations for the past 15 years. It is also a "money" league, which is to say that the top finishers in its divisions get a cash prize. Members pay a $25.00 annual fee, participating pubs pay a $50.00 annual fee. There is also a weekly fee paid by members.  The CDC is unique, too, in that it has retained much of its membership in recent years. Where other leagues have experienced drops of as much as 50% in their member rolls during the course of the past few years, Cleveland has remained fairly steady in its membership levels.

The sport of darts in America owes much of its heritage to the Cleveland cadre of promoters and players.  Steve Farkas, Tom Yurcich and Steve Warner were the first to capture the spirit and image of British-style darts in America. They were the first to describe and communicate the excitement of this "new" sport to the nation, in much the same way that their fellow Clevelander, Alan Freed, once described and communicated the excitement of a "new" music to America back in the days of the dawn of Rock and Roll.

It must be something in the water, but whatever the cause, whatever it is that you've got - keep it coming, Cleveland!

Next issue, the story of the Southern California Dart Association.
 

Tex Blackwood, one of the sports most colorful characters, at the Cleveland Extravaganza. As you read the quote, keep in mind that Philadelphia shooters of those times were notoriously reluctant to count, since the skill is not required in the American-style darts most of them had grown up shooting. And many of the Philadelphia shooters of the 1970's were so confident of their ability to hit any shot that they discounted the value of counting. "Primrose Pete" Polinsky, for example, frequently chose double one as his outshot. Here is the excerpt from Warner's article:

"Someone taps my arm and points to the side. I look over and there's Tex, an older man with a gaunt face and haunted eyes. He's wearing cowboy boots, a cowboy hat with a Culver City Open dart patch on the front, a cowboy shirt with roses on the pockets and a longhorn steer on the back, and a gun belt with a holster full of darts....

"Tex has had a lot to drink. He's vigorously chewing gum and snapping the darts back and forth between his fingers. He pauses for an uncomfortable amount of time between each dart he throws and sometimes, for no apparent reason, walks slowly up to the board to take a good look at it.

"His opponent and the twenty spectators watching the match don't like Tex. There's grumbling over how much time he's taking and somebody says loudly; 'This asshole should be banned from darts. Look at him. He's making it a mockery.'

"But Tex just keeps throwing beautiful darts, slowly. Despite terrible counting errors that cost him dearly, he wins the match. Nobody congratulates him, except me. I shake his hand and pat him on the shoulder and say, 'Good dart, good darts.' He gives me a fine smile and says, 'Hell, I'm a thrower, not a counter'."

Warner shot darts in the CDC for many years. He still lives in Cleveland. His most unforgettable darts moment was at the first Cleveland Extravaganza when, through beginner's luck (he says), he beat Tom Fleetwood at 301.

Then there was Tom Yurcich. Yurcich was a talented artist who, in 1973, teamed up with promoter Steve Farkas, and others, to found International Spider, the first nationally distributed darts publication in America. It was the art of Tom Yurcich that projected the image of dart shooting in America to Americans and the world. His cover art was often humorous, always of first class quality and seldom off the mark. My personal favorite of his covers was the October, 1976 issue on which a tongue-chewing dart shooter is portrayed with dart poised, one eye closed and the aiming eye looking upward at a mischievous spider hanging just over the dart. Tom's portrait of Al Lippman, which accompanied International Spider's notice of the death of "The Iceman" in 1976, truly captured the essence of the legendary dart shooter. I am indebted to Bob Damsel, Cleveland's dart shooting railroad engineer (and former co-owner, with Norm Plonski, of Major Hoople's) for the loan of his International Spider collection. It was an invaluable addition to my research.

When Yurcich joined with Farkas and other Clevelanders, to name a few, Wally Pisorn (the owner of the venerable Harbor Inn), Ernie Peto, Jim Woldan, Charlie Andracchio, and Steve Warner, the result was one of the most active and articulate darts community in the United States, perhaps in the world.

Tom Yurcich passed away a couple of years ago. I am told that his art sometimes appears on a website owned by Steve Farkas.

As for Farkas, he is a mystery to me. I have never been able to arrange an interview with him. He is, without question, the founder of darts in Cleveland. There is also no doubt that International Spider, which published for seven or eight years before being sold and transformed into a newsletter, was the seminal voice of the sport of British-style darts in America. The importance of Steve Farkas in the history of the sport of darts in this country is equal to that of any of the other major movers and shakers of the sport - bar none.

 The CDC has supported and continues to support great players and a great community. When well known dart shooter and promoter, Richie Varga celebrated his 50th birthday, George Silberzahn came back to Cleveland to join the celebration. For that matter, Silberzahn, the American-style and British-style darts Ace from South Jersey, was Best Man at Tony Money's wedding, traveling to Texas to do the honors. Money, a British business executive who by coincidence hales from Cleveland, England, married a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. Cleveland-based Silberzahn and Money were an internationally known doubles team in the 1970's. Money still lives in Cleveland, Silberzahn returned to the South Jersey area in the early 1980's. I should also note that Silberzahn, an honorary Clevelander and master dart shooter, is the author of a book on mastering the sport of darts that is due for publication by Totem Pointe Books later this year.

The CDC today is somewhat unique in that a paid professional Executive Director, Scott Maddis, has handled its daily operations for the past 15 years. It is also a "money" league, which is to say that the top finishers in its divisions get a cash prize. Members pay a $25.00 annual fee, participating pubs pay a $50.00 annual fee. There is also a weekly fee paid by members.  The CDC is unique, too, in that it has retained much of its membership in recent years. Where other leagues have experienced drops of as much as 50% in their member rolls during the course of the past few years, Cleveland has remained fairly steady in its membership levels.

The sport of darts in America owes much of its heritage to the Cleveland cadre of promoters and players.  Steve Farkas, Tom Yurcich and Steve Warner were the first to capture the spirit and image of British-style darts in America. They were the first to describe and communicate the excitement of this "new" sport to the nation, in much the same way that their fellow Clevelander, Alan Freed, once described and communicated the excitement of a "new" music to America back in the days of the dawn of Rock and Roll.

It must be something in the water, but whatever the cause, whatever it is that you've got - keep it coming, Cleveland!

Next issue, the story of the Southern California Dart Association.